Review – The Xx

Kids today, eh? Dressing up in black, being all miserable, recording in dank studios underneath railway arches, wasn’t like that in my day. Oh hold on, yes it bloody was. Maybe that’s why, when I first heard The Xx, I got one of those weird chills. The fact that they were half my age and lived round the corner from me made it doubly weird.

Because, unlike pretty much everyone else making music today on either side of the Atlantic, The Xx like space. Lots and lots of it. I haven’t heard a band make so much from silence since the glory days of Low (and before them, the gaps between the pummelling method of Swans). There’s gaps between the mordant drums and the guitar stabs that you could safely park a truck in. The delay settings on the guitarist’s pedals are set to “Yeah, repeat what I’ve played in about half an hour”. No Edge-style 96ms delay for this lot, I can tell you1.

"You Want What On The Cover?"

But what gives me the chills the most is that this record sounds totally familiar, picking up influences from everyone from Young Marble Giants to New Order through to urban music like Grime and Dubstep, and sounds utterly, utterly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

“Infinity” sounds like Chris Isaak2 got kidnapped by Burial and started getting Stockholm Syndrome. “Heart Skipped A Beat” features a doleful Peter Hook style bassline, like something from “Unknown Pleasures” or “Power, Corruption and Lies”. Other parts sound like some weird pirate radio staffed entirely by lonesome indie kids with an R&B fascination.

The lyrics, as you’d expect from a bunch of folk just out of their teens, are concerned with love. And not just any love, oh no – the desperate yearning of youth, all unspoken desire and thwarted emotions and the sheer heartache of being horribly, wonderfully in love. It takes me back to those days, long ago3 when a single word from the object of your desire could turn you into a quivering wreck. When you spent the whole day waiting for the phone to ring, or the whole night waiting for the touch of her hand to make everything ok. When every single cell of your body felt nothing other than the pangs of yearning. The whole record is shot through with the fug of pheromones. Kids, eh?

In case I’m not making this absolutely clear, the album is great. For a band to come out with something as different, as shot through with that pure teenage combination of total confidence and heart-stopping loneliness as you can imagine, on their first attempt, is stunning. I only hope that the success of this album doesn’t go to their heads. Maybe I’ll pop down the road and lock them in their studio so they can’t get out and hear all the nice things people are saying about them. Success will only cheer them up, and that just won’t do.

One more thing. What is it about the Elliott School in Putney that’s produced some of the most forward-looking music in Britain today? Utterly bizarre. Bless the English Comprehensive system and its lackadaisical attitude towards education.

1 Sorry, guitar geek talk. Carry on.

2 Speaking of which, quite a few reviews have pointed out the similarity, and generally done it in a negative way. All I can say is, get over yourselves – “Wicked Game” is a marvellous song.

3 So very, very long ago. Sniff.

MP3: Heart Skipped A Beat by The Xx

MP3: Do You Mind by The Xx

Buy “XX” (CD/MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Goes Goth – Echo to the Banshees

Goths! Black. Patchouli oil. Hair crimpers. More black. Dry ice. Being miserable. Yet more black. Ah, it was fun being a goth.

Echo and the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
The Cure – Close to Me
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cities in Dust

I was a teenage goth, you know. Well, more like a half-goth. A demi-goth. A part-time goth. I was far too much into The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire and New Order to ever really go down the road of become a full Balaam and the Angel fan – but there was a definite gothic tendency in my mid-80’s listening. Yes, I had a Bauhaus record. And Sisters of Mercy too. More than one, in fact.



Anyway, this bit of the Pitchfork 500 veers from the jangly alt-rock, the goodtime rock, the hardcore-gone-catchy of the last bunch of songs. Whilst the US indie scene vied for a combination of reality and harping back to a mystical past, UK music veered off into strange new places.

First off, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”. 25-odd years after first hearing this, I still find it inestimably creepy. There’s a weird oppressive atmosphere over the whole thing, from Ian McCulloch’s just on the edge of hysteria singing to Will Sargeant’s Television-on-bad-acid guitar. It’s also, after 25-odd years, utterly fantastic.

“The Killing Moon” is a desperate wail of a song, underpinned by a sharp sense of drama and a cracking tune. And there’s not many pop songs that go on about the battle between fate and free will, though I’m hoping that The Saturdays will soon release a song about Cartesian duality to even up the mix a bit. Goes on for about a minute too long though, no matter what it says in the book.

Next up, it’s The Cure with “Close to Me”. Again, like Echo, there’s an odd atmosphere, but this time it’s more like the warm fug of a student bedsit with the windows shut against the cold, gas fire on full. The video is also one of the best suited to the song in history:

Isn’t that just great?

Robert Smith always had a way of writing a catchy pop tune which harboured dark, nasty thoughts underneath, and this is no exception. “I’ve waited hours for this/I’ve made myself so sick” isn’t exactly an ideal opening couplet for a sweet and gentle love song really, is it? Whilst I find The Cure’s records more than faintly embarrassing in the cold light of not being a teenager, there’s no denying this song’s haunting catchiness.

Finally, along comes Siouxsie Sioux wailing along with her Banshees. You know what, I don’t think I’ve willingly chosen to listen to a Banshees song for about 20 years. But you know what else? I really quite like “Cities In Dust”. I’d forgotten how modern and shiny the mid-80’s Banshees sounded (you can see exactly where Garbage got all their ideas from), and how striking a singer Siouxsie was.

There aren’t many rocks songs about the destruction of Pompeii in AD79, you know. Being inspired by a visit there, and no doubt with the fear of imminent nuclear destruction1 in the back of her mind, Siouxsie sings portentously about “Hot and burning in your nostrils/
Pouring down your gaping mouth”

Ok, so the video hasn’t aged quite as well as The Cure’s, but few videos from the early-80’s have, frankly. Still, Siouxsie is on imperious form and the video doesn’t leave you in any doubt about the subject matter. Which is nice.

So there we go, three songs from the UK Goth Explosion. Well, a bunch of black-clad miserablists couldn’t ever really cause an explosion, and Echo and the Bunnymen aren’t exactly goths, but you know what I mean. For songs that are, on the surface, really a bit miserable, I’ve rather enjoyed listening to all of them again. I wasn’t expecting that, I can tell you.

Back over the Atlantic for the next Pitchfork, to see what’s been happening in the strange and exciting world of hip-hop and rap.

MP3: The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen

MP3: Close to Me by The Cure

MP3: Cities In Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees

1 You really had to be there, you know. The early ’80’s were great fun for nuclear paranoia. Honestly, you kids these days with your dirty bombs and bio-weapons; we had 10,000 Russian warheads pointing in our general direction, and an ex-B movie actor in the White House. Much more fearsome, frankly.

The whole Pitchfork 500 series of articles can be found here.

Buy “Killing Moon: the Best of Echo & the Bunnymen” (CD)

Buy The Cure’s “Greatest Hits” (CD)

Buy Siouxsie and the Banshees “The Best Of” (CD/MP3)

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